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Improving Your Email Open Rate

Use campaign stats to boost response from subscribers

Problem: "My campaign open rates are dismal!"

About 20-30% is a normal open rate (see Email Marketing Benchmarks), but a lot depends on your list, your content type, and how frequently you send your campaigns (and how fatigued your recipients are). Your very first campaign may see a high open rate (like +70%) but things quickly level off with subsequent campaigns. Here are some tips if you're seeing below average open performance:

Possible Cause: Try This:

Ineffective subject line

Your subject line is one of the most important elements of your email campaign. It's got to be relevant and compelling to each and every one of your recipients. You should be spending a significant amount of time writing your subject line (don't just slap this on right before you send). Practice by splitting your list in half, then testing different subject lines on each group, to see which gets opened more. Your recipients get hundreds of emails a day. Why should they open yours? Here's a study where we examined 43 million email subject lines to see what works and what doesn't.

Bad timing

Experiment by sending your campaign on different days (and times). If you're trying to promote a weekend event, you might get better results with a Thursday campaign than a Monday campaign. If you're sending to corporate recipients, you might avoid the morning email flood, and send just after people have deleted their usual early-morning spam. Restaurant? Why not try just before lunch?

Blocked images

It could be that your recipients are opening your emails just fine, but their email applications are simply blocking images to protect their privacy (this would block the tracker images, thereby lowering your open rates). Check your click rates too---if you're getting tons of clicks, but low opens, you'll know they're just not displaying your images. Some email applications will turn images on by default, if the sender is in the address book (AOL does this). You might place a tiny line of text near the top of your email, asking people to "add our email address to your address book." You should also place this instructional message on your opt-in confirmation screen, and all welcome emails that you send.

List Fatigue

Perhaps you're sending your campaigns too frequently, and people are just tired of hearing from you. You could send a little less often, or offer different types of communications (daily vs. weekly vs. monthly) that they can sign up for.

Poor list quality

If you're using a very old list of customers, a lot of the addresses on your list have probably gone bad. People change their email addresses all the time, such as when they start receiving too much spam, or when they switch ISPs, or when they sign up for services that offer free addresses. We've seen some customers collecting opt-in lists on their website, but they wait too long before sending their emails.

If you've purchased or rented a list, shame on you. Those people didn't give you their permission to email them. That's why they're not opening your emails (and also why they're probably reporting you as a spammer).

Your content just sucks?

People get tons of email. Why should they read yours? If you're not providing compelling, useful content in your emails, they're not going to open it. People don't want to just hear from you. They want something useful from you.

Spam filters

It could be that nobody is opening your emails because their spam filters are mistakenly throwing them into their junk folders! The thing to remember here is that spam filters look for clues in your email to determine if you're friend or foe. You should design your email and write your content with spam filters in mind, and keep the "spaminess" down to an absolute minimum. Don't use spammy phrases, and don't scream with all caps, like "CLICK HERE NOW!!!" or, "LIMITED TIME OFFER!" There are tons of factors that spam filters look for (too many to list here), so it's better to learn how they think, rather than try to memorize all the little things they consider to be "spammy." For help with this, read our article: How Spam Filters Think.


The only thing that really guarantees a consistently high open rate is great, relevant content. It's tough to come up with great content every single month. Some tips for getting good content on a consistent basis:

  • Set very low expectations at first. Call it your "Quarterly Newsletter" or even your "Quarterly-ish Newsletter." Some people call it their "Infrequent Newsletter". Writing email newsletters is like exercising. You have to start slow, and just get used to sending stuff. Get a routing going. Then, move on to the heavy weights. Don't burn yourself out too soon.
  • Start a blog. Post at least once or twice a week. Every month, pull content from your own blog into your newsletter.
  • Create a bookmarks folder in your browser for "Newsletter content". As you find cool stuff while surfing the "interwebs," throw it into that folder for future use.
  • Keep a marketing calendar. Try to get an email newsletter out every month, or every quarter. After you send a newsletter, immediately start your next issue, and save it as a draft. Throught the next few weeks, you'll stumble upon great content ideas, (usually while you're in the shower). Just log in to i-Emailer, open the draft, and plug your rough ideas in and refine later.


Other Useful Resources:



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